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flags and concrete

flags and concrete

There doesn’t seem to be anything else to say that hasn’t already been said.

 

FiveBlocks

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Memorial Day 2004 at Fort Rosecrans Military Cemetery Point Loma In the late 1960’s and up until the mid 1970’s in Southern Orange county there was a heavy military, especially Marine, presence as a result of the US involvement in Vietnam.  It was not uncommon to find Marines woven into every aspect of our lives and as children growing up we were not lost on where these men had been or where they were going.  We saw them in military dress and as civilians, even though as civilians their distinctive haircuts and bearing set them apart. 

 A child’s world is much closer, immediate and in focus; it’s more visceral, although they don’t know what it means yet.  Perhaps it’s because children are that much closer to the ground or they don’t have that omnipresent crush of bills to pay, jobs and bosses to appease, spouses to please and even children to raise

 

On errands with my mother I saw them coming and going through the downtown bars and pawnshops, in line at the bus station, at church, at the barber and on the beach enjoying the ocean and the sand on our side of the Pacific one last time.  We saw them with their strange tattoos; snarling tigers, crossed swords, hissing snakes, Marine Corp emblems and naked girls in curvy poses. We saw the convoys of trucks and jeeps on the road up close as we passed in their inevitably long, slow moving line.  These were serious men with serious faces and a serious job to do.

 

I saw the Marine helicopters at recess from the blacktop of our school’s playground as 20 or 30 in a single flight, passed over on their way from ship to shore, cuddled and hovering within the valleys of their base just south of our elementary school.  Trips south to Vista, where my grandparents lived, we passed through the mid-section of the base and there again from the highway I watched as these men prepared for Vietnam; armored carriers, launched themselves seaborne from ships just off shore and made their may to the landing zone, crashing dramatically  through the surf.  Overhead, flying low and heavy came the fat, wide, drab colored helicopters lending care and support to the men maneuvering on the beach. 

 

Even at night from our beds, if we listened we could hear the dull throaty recoil of the Howitzers and the popping staccato trill of the heavy machine guns at the practice range.  As children we witnessed, heard and saw all of this and although it was common it did not fail to make an impression everyday.

 

The Vietnam War ended on my birthday, March 31, 1975; I turned 11 years old that day.  At least that was the official close of hostilities for the US Armed Forces.  The Republic of Vietnam held on for a little while, staggering and bending first on one knee, like a wounded water buffalo, and  then slowly giving up the other three.  We watched on TV, along with everyone else, the final moments of the fall of Saigon and the take over by the Communists from the North.  Fresh from the jungle, the mean Russian made tanks rolled through the tree lined streets of the capital.  We imagined the war was over now, even for us, but wars have a way of living on. 

 

Two weeks later in mid May, eight or so grey and white USMC bluebird school buses, just like the yellow ones we rode everyday, came rolling through the gates of our little elementary school.  From all that we had seen over the years we might have expected to see Marines in those buses but that was not the case.  There, through the windows and at each seat we could see, as the buses pulled up to the cafeteria and the school office, little black haired children, boys and girls of all sizes; they were not speaking English and they were nothing like us. 

 

The school faculty lined our classes up on the playground for an assembly and we stood and watched as group by group the new arrivals marched off the buses and onto the playground opposite us.  It was quite an impact to see them dressed as they would have been in school in Vietnam.  They wore white short sleeved shirts that were fine and delicate, almost like a blouse and they had the patch of their school over the left breast.  They wore black linen pants and black sandals that clacked and clattered on the blacktop, keeping pace and time with the Vietnamese they spoke. 

 

The teachers announced the new arrivals and welcomed them, assigning the appropriate ages to the classrooms that corresponded best for them.  I was impressed by the entire scene that day and even more so when I thought back to what I had seen on the TV only a few weeks before and knowing these new students had come out of it all and were here with us.

 

I am taller now and with the eyes of an adult I can see if it weren’t for those men that lived, fought and died, it might have been me on that bus, in some other country, far away from my home.

 

 
‘History does not entrust the care of freedom to the weak or timid.’ – Dwight D. Eisenhower 
 
 

 

 

 

NOTE: This photo was taken 4 years ago on Memorial Day at Fort Rosecrans National Military Cemetery Point Loma, Where my father is buried.

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